Danielle Harrison is surrounded by loyal clients who swear by her positive approach to fitness. CONTRIBUTED

The fitness studio may be off the beaten path, but inside Keys to Wellness Group Fitness, it feels less like a workout and more like a party.  

With dance lights pulsating on the walls and the latin beats pumping, local neonatal nurse practitioner and zumba dynamo Danielle Harrison leads a handful of women through a high-energy dance session.

“Danielle is full of passion and she is incredibly encouraging,” said Zumba client and Tavernier resident Amanda Ihrig. ”I’m just incredibly thankful for her because she really does pour so much of herself into these classes and it is very apparent.” 

Miami resident Elisa Dimitropoulos and her 18-year-old daughter, Evie, make it a point to attend the 10:30 a.m. Zumba classes on Saturdays whenever they are in Key Largo.

“It’s the only thing she’ll wake up for,” said mom Elisa with a laugh. 

“It really is, because I love it so much,” Evie said.

Harrison wasn’t always the inspirational fitness instructor she is today.  

Three years ago she topped the scales at 260 pounds. In 2020, she was so unhealthy that her teenage daughter, who was at a summer band camp, worried her mother might not survive.

“And my daughter looked at me and she said ‘Mom, are you going to be alive when I get home?’” recalled Harrison of that pivotal video call that changed her life.

One year and minus a 100 pounds later, Harrison became a certified Zumba instructor.

“I started with Zumba and I kept building to different classes,” said Harrison. Among other fitness classes, she now teaches Tabata Fitness, Bootcamp and Circuit Tabata along with Zumba step, Zumba toning and Zumbini classes for children under 4 years of age and their parents. Being a nurse practitioner in neonatology by profession, the Zumbini classes are right up her alley.

“We do music with drums, shakers, scarves, we dance, we sing, we follow instructions,” said Harrison of the Zumbini classes. “We do exercises; they don’t know they’re doing exercises but they take a great nap when they go home.”

Harrison also incorporates basic sign language in the Zumbini classes. Sign language is near and dear to Harrison’s heart; her 21-year-old son is hearing-impaired.

Besides working as a neonatal nurse practitioner in Miami, Harrison is a military veteran, having served two years in the Navy right out of Coral Shores High School.

Apart from teaching almost a dozen fitness classes a week, Harrison also organizes outings for her clients once or twice a month, like going line dancing at Schnebly’s Redland’s Winery or taking in “Hamilton” at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Harrison said the outings are an opportunity to bond with clients and a chance to get them off the rock.

“We all go out and do something different and when I say different, it’s not going to the bar and having a couple of drinks, it’s getting out in the community and getting your eyes open to different things rather than just the ‘Keys disease.’ That’s not a healthy lifestyle,” said Harrison.

Harrison started offering the array of exercise classes two years ago on evenings and weekends to cater to people who work. Classes are held at the old Baptist church building tucked away along Largo Road at MM 106 on the bayside.

“It’s been so difficult to try to get people to come, because they don’t know about this,” said Harrison. She’s hoping to get the word out about her classes. 

 Perhaps her best salespeople are her loyal customers, like Key Largo resident Michelle Kosiek. She’s been taking three to four of Harrison’s classes a week for the last year and has dropped a dress size. More importantly, she just feels better.

“This is a no-judgment zone; no one is paying attention to anyone else,” said Kosiek.

“She motivates us beyond belief and it’s fun,” she added.

“She’s just super fun and she makes class exciting and that passion really drives people to want to chase it,” Ihrig said.

Harrison offers classes on a drop-in basis and she also offers monthly packages. For more  information on classes you can give her a call or text her at 305-923-1369. Information about the classes can also be found on Facebook at Keys to Wellness Group Fitness.

Kellie Butler Farrell is a journalist who calls Islamorada home. Kellie spent two decades in television news and also taught journalism at Barry University in Miami and Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, UAE. She loves being outside, whether spending time on the water or zipping down the Old Highway on her electric bike, Kellie is always soaking up the island lifestyle. Kellie and her husband own an electric bike rental company, Keys Ebikes.